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  • Interview: Xiu Xiu

    Fri, 08 Feb 2008 15:52:48

    Interview: Xiu Xiu - The singer opens up the only way he knows how—completely

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    Xiu Xiu is music as primal scream therapy. The group tap into a subcortical layer of emotion through their distorted cacophonies and lead singer Jamie Stewart's lyrical tantrums. It's a deeply personal experience, where wounded sentiments are laid to bare for the listener.

    Now with their sixth studio album, Women As Lovers, the band continues to be an open book, and seem more comfortable than ever with putting their sensitivities on display for all to see. We sat down with Stewart, the group's emotional core, to discuss this latest LP, as he shared insight into the band's new four-man dynamic, musical development and literary inspiration.

    You're so prolific. You put out these really emotional, really dedicated records almost every year. How is it that you stay so inspired?

    I'm kind of a basket case, and I think I would go out of my mind if I wasn't working on records. That's kind of pathetic and excessively dramatic, but it's unfortunately true.

    I guess there are worse ways to get that out from inside.

    Indeed there are.

    There's been something of a progression, the way your records change from one to the next. You're not necessarily confined to one style. The compositions are so rich this time around and seem to have grown. Do you feel like you've grown as much as a musician as a songwriter?

    Well, I practice more than I used to. Ches Smith [percussion] has a lot to do with the music, especially on this record. He'd played a lot on the previous records, but has since become a full band member and is a really fantastic composer. Caralee [multi-instrumentalist], particularly on this last record, has been a lot more involved in some ways. So I think it has gone from primarily being one person writing to three people writing, and all of us have a similar thread but are coming from different directions. So that really broadened the scope of things.

    Was that the whole team who worked on this record?

    Largely. Devon Hoff [bass] worked on it as well. At the time that it was recorded he wasn't a full band member, but is now touring with us. And then Greg Saunier from Deerhoof, who worked on The Air Force, also worked on this record with us.

    The music you make is so personal. When you head into the studio do you take any sense of obligation to fan expectations, or are you just trying to emote from inside completely?

    I think those are probably both of the same thing. I think people are looking for us to just go for it from inside completely. I don't think there's anything else we could do otherwise and not feel like complete poser assholes. This is our sixth record, and it seems like that is what people are expecting us to do, and that's just what we do.

    A lot of your fans feel such a strong connection to your music because of that honesty. Are you happy with the place of importance you hold for them?

    I think we feel really, really fortunate that people are interested in what we're doing at all. We communicate pretty regularly with fans; my email address is on our website, and people write to us, which is pretty awesome. We're lucky. It seems to be a really smart, and really open, generous sort of person who takes the time to check us out.

    As a musician, that must really let you explore those themes, because you can trust your fans to dedicate themselves to actually listening.

    I don't know if we really think of it in those terms so much. I think it's a little bit dangerous to think too much about the sort of person who you think might be listening. I think when I said before that people are expecting us to do something and that's why we do it, we would do those things anyway. We were doing it in the first place, then people began to expect it from us. It doesn't serve anyone to try and anticipate what you think listeners might want. You just really have to be yourself, and I think when someone is themselves, then other people can take something from it.

    When I listen to this record in particular, on one hand it's very sprawling, but on the other hand it's very meticulous. It seems like there would be a lot of tweaking that goes into making it. What's it like in the studio actually getting songs just how you want them?

    I think "a lot of tweaking" would be the most accurate and concise way to describe it. There's an astounding amount of tweaking. I'll sit in front of the computer and work on one five-second section of a song for an hour easily, but Greg will sit in front of a computer and work on five seconds of a song for two hours. He is super focused, and super detail oriented, and really does not let any bullshit slide ever. It's great to be able to work with him. Not that I'm saying I bullshit on my records, but he will never let us just get by—not that we would anyway. But sometimes you get tired at night and may want to go, "Oh that's good enough, let's move on to the next thing." But he'll just go "no, no, no," we really have to make this the best that we can make it.

    When you come in to make the record is it completely from scratch, or do you all bring in songs and try to fit them together? Because the albums have such a cohesive feeling to them, you'd think they were all composed from tip to tail with a certain atmosphere in mind.

    It depends on the song. We worked on the album pretty much for a year, not straight, but on and off. It wasn't just one month of hard work. I have a studio at my house, and work on things for a few hours everyday. Then there would be weeks straight where everyone got together. Some of the songs we wrote from top to bottom all together, some of them came together in pieces. I'm stunned that it comes across to you as cohesive, because it could not have been put together in a less cohesive way. [laughs]

    That could just be me laying my own trip on it. When I listen to it, the word that I kept coming back to was "warm." People talked a lot about how Fabulous Muscles was your pop record—and I wouldn't call Women a pop record—but I felt like this might be your most inviting work.

    It certainly wasn't conscious, but I wouldn't disagree with that.

    I was reading about the book where you got the title for the album, Women As Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek. How did you come to choose that for the name?

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